The relationship between the watch industry and glossy magazines goes back to the early 20th century, and has been evolving ever since. Hearst, which counts Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, and Cosmopolitan among its list of leading titles, has been helping watch brands and retailers tell the story of timepieces in expert prose and stunning photography for generations, and is now bringing even more life to these stories through live events, digital innovations and peerless reporting in print, as Duncan Chater, chief brand officer at Hearst, explains to WatchPro.
In October, Esquire, the world’s most stylish men’s magazine, held a four day celebration of everything a discerning gentleman in today’s Britain needs to know. The event, known as the Esquire Townhouse, brought men together for a series of interviews, live performances, master classes, drinks, supper clubs, fitness sessions and more. In an agenda covering everything from style to sport, tech to travel, food to film and beyond, Esquire devoted a full hour of the very first evening to fine watches.
The Townhouse is just one of the ways in which Hearst demonstrates its deep affection and insatiable appetite to pass on watch knowledge to its sophisticated audience. All other glossy titles in the stable are just as enthused by watches, whether that is fashion watches in Cosmopolitan, sports watches in Men’s Health, luxury women’s watches in Elle and Red or fine jewellery timepieces in Harper’s Bazaar and Town & Country.
Hearst goes far beyond the usual gift guides or Baselworld briefings. Esquire, for example, created its Big Watch Book in 2015, and the annual publication has become as much of a collectible as the luxury Swiss watches on which it reports.
Hearst has also produced The Big Watch Survey for the past two years, which has immediately established itself as an indispensable research report on the state of the watch industry. Over 8000 Hearst magazine readers contributed their views to the latest study; sharing their views on which watches they would love to buy next (in their wildest dreams and in the real world); where they like to shop for watches; and how they educate themselves about watches and brands.
This passion for watches is not just about editors’ fascination for timekeepers, or even a desire to inform and entertain readers. Watches are a major source of advertising for Hearst and a crucial part of the editorial mix that makes people buy magazines, spend time on their websites, attend their events and engage with them on social media. For Hearst and its magazine teams, maintaining great relationships with watch brands and major retailers in the UK is a classic win-win.
“Hearst puts a huge amount of effort into promoting watches and watch brands to our readers, because we know that they love watches. In addition to covering timepieces in our portfolio of magazines, we have launched Synchronised, a Men’s Health supplement offering an A-Z website of horology to help readers pick the perfect watch. We also launched Esquire’s stand-alone magazine The Big Watch Book, which keeps readers up-to-date with all the new trends in contemporary watch-keeping,” describes Duncan Chater, chief brand officer, Luxury, Young Women, Fitness & Health, for Hearst UK.
It is fortunate for the watch industry that Mr Chater has such a personal love of watches. “I am incredibly passionate about watches and I think that rubs off on other people. I played a big part in launching the Esquire Big Watch Book and Synchronised when I was on Men’s Health. Those are magazines that have come about because of my love of watches believing we can deliver really strong products for consumers. I understand it because I am a watch lover, I am one of those consumers,” he says.
The media world has changed beyond recognition in recent years with the rise of Google Adwords and social media promotions, but Mr Chater thinks this constant barrage of information; often the same information coming at consumers over-and-over again, can be counterproductive. His aim is to engage with potential watch buyers throughout what can often be a lengthy process of narrowing down what watch to buy, and then deciding where, when and how to purchase it. “The Big Watch Survey found that buying a watch is not a process that starts on the day a customer walks into a retailer, it often goes back years when somebody first starts thinking about buying a watch, researching certain brands and their models,” Mr Chater suggests.
“I am interested in the whole decision-making process, and how we can help watch companies engage with consumers earlier in that process,” he adds.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to informing everybody who might buy a watch, because they all have different aspirations. “People are not just interested in watches from a visual point of view, some are more interested in the brand and its history, some are interested in the technicalities of the movement and the materials. We try to play off all of those angles and try to provide the right information as they move along that watch buying journey,” explains Mr Chater.
Watch businesses understand the power of storytelling and developing trust during the watch buying journey, and this is where Hearst magazines add the greatest value. “Who would I trust when I am buying a watch?” asks Mr Chater. “It is great getting information from a retailer, but you know that conversation is ultimately about the watch person trying to sell to you. If you want expert, independent advice, you need to go to trusted sources, and this is where our magazine brands come in. We invest a huge amount in content for our titles to make sure we have the best writers, designers and photographers. We have integrity in everything we do,” he insists.
There is also something enduringly reassuring and comforting about magazines, Mr Chater believes. “What does not get reported enough is the quality time people spend with magazines. With every digital form of media, you are constantly interrupted. If you are reading on a mobile phone, a text message pops up or a social media alerts. You are not fully focused. Same with TV, same with radio. Generally speaking, when people are reading magazines, they are in relaxation mode. They are also in the mode when they are looking to buy stuff. A lot of the content is about cool stuff to buy, and they want advice about what to buy. That puts us in a great place,” he explains.
The Esquire Townhouse, the Big Watch Survey and Men’s Health’s Synchronised supplement are just a few of the innovations that Mr Chater has developed in recent years, and he has ideas for new ways to help brands and retailers increase sales. “I have definitely got plans to launch more products into the watch industry. I would like to do something in the vintage watch area. I would like to do more in the experiential area. We have Esquire Townhouse, and Breitling was one of the partners for that. The Townhouse is a great way to talk about watches in a lifestyle context, rather than just from a product perspective.
Hearst headlines WatchPro Awards
The watch industry is a key category for Hearst, both in terms of consumer interest and commercial value, which is why the company is working with WatchPro this year as headline sponsor of the 2017 WatchPro Awards.
“We have strong working relationships within the sector and want to support it and help it grow,” says Duncan Chater, chief brand officer, Luxury, Young Women, Fitness & Health, for Hearst UK.
“We are delighted to be sponsoring the WatchPro Awards 2017. WatchPro is the most important trade vehicle for the industry, and the Awards recognise all the hard work and talent that makes it thrive,” he adds.
The 2017 WatchPro Awards take place on November 22 at 8 Northumberland near Trafalgar Square in London.